Appraisal ambivalence

19th May 2000 at 01:00
What do teacher-governors think of their involvement in performance management? Michael Creese and Peter Earley found out

THE role of governing bodies in performance management in their schools will be considerably enhanced under new arrangements which will operate from this September.

Governors will continue to be closely involved in the determination of salaries of heads and deputies, linked to performance objectives, but in addition they will also be responsible for ensuring that appraisal and performance management policies are in place covering all teachers.

However, research undertaken at the Institute of Education into teacher governors (TES, March 17) reveals that they have considerable reservations about this latest addition to the responsibilities carried out by governing bodies.

The teacher governors in our survey of 500 schools were split on the issue of the governing body's role in determining the salaries of senior staff. They were asked whether or not they felt "confident in the current decision-making on the head's and deputy's pay". While only 7 per cent "strongly agreed", more than half (57 per cent) disagreed.

Were some governing bodies "having the wool pulled over their eyes" and making salary awards that could not always be justified? Were they rubber-stamping this decision in the way they were said to be doing with other decisions?

Clearly this is an area in need of research, particularly in the light of the new performance management arrangements and the proposed system of external advice.

Concerns about governors'involvement were also reflected in comments about teacher-governors' role in the performance management structure. The most frequently-mentioned response (noted by more than a quarter) did not envisage any role at all for teacher-governors.

This perhaps reflects our re-search finding that where teacher-governors did feel excluded from governing body deliberations - recorded by just over a quarter of cases - this usually related to personnel issues or matters to do with salary determination.

Recent legislation (which has increased the number of staff-

governors) does not permit teachers or support staff to be present when the pay or appraisal of another staff member is being discussed. Howver, teacher governors did see themselves as having a key role in explaining issues to other governors or liaising between them and the staff.

A significant minority of

teacher-governors in our survey (more than a fifth) were either uncertain about their future role in relation to performance management or expressed disapproval of the main proposals.

The plan to increase the influence of heads and give them an even greater role in the salary determination of staff (particularly with "threshold" decisions) may reduce the likelihood of "full and frank discussions" involving teacher-governors.

Heads have always been in powerful positions regarding the promotion and development of their junior colleagues; current proposals for performance pay may exacerbate the situation. This may not be beneficial for governing bodies who, as our earlier

article suggested, need teacher-governors to play a full role for their governing bodies to be

effective.

Recent annual reports of both the chief inspector and the School Teachers' Review Body suggest that the setting of performance objectives, linked to salary, has not always been carried out rigorously and there has been considerable debate in these pages on whether governors should be involved in the process at all.

The issue appears to be if not governors then who? If we must have such a system, and the Government seems to think we must, then in the absence of personnel managers, governors are probably as qualified as any other body to undertake such activities.

Help is at hand, however. From September 2000, governing bodies will have the benefit of access to an external adviser. These advisers are currently being recruited and trained and, along with external assessors (to monitor heads' "threshold" decisions), are seen as crucial to the successful implementation of performance management systems in schools. The external advisers - and every governing body will have to employ one (paid for centrally) - will be available to coach and support the governing body in the performance of its role. We await with interest to see how the new system beds down.

Michael Creese and Peter Earley are authors of 'Improving Schools and Governing Bodies: Making a Difference' (Routledge, 1999).


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